Wrapped up warm

January 8, 2018

Layering up is the most effective way to retain heat

When it comes to winter, staying dry is the number one priority. You and your horse’s wardrobe doesn’t need to be huge, but having a few key pieces will set you up to beat whatever the weather has in store. 

Before planning your next shopping trip, it is worthwhile understanding what the market has to offer and what would be best suited to your needs. The first thing to think about is material.

Fleece is an excellent material for winter wear as it is very warm, wicks moisture from the skin and is lightweight. Wool is similar as it is great at trapping heat and at wicking dampness away from the body. Polyester has good insulating and windproof properties, but is less effective at removing moisture so can leave wearers feeling clammy.

Another interesting material is lycra. Many equestrian items have some form of lycra woven in, making them lightweight, breathable and able to contour to the shape of the wearer without restricting movement.

Touchscreen compatible gloves are widely available

Cotton ought to be avoided, as although it is a favourite for summer, in winter it is more prone to absorbing moisture and staying damp, therefore wicking heat from the body.

Great for strong outer layers, nylon is tough and absorbs little moisture, which evaporates quickly. Resistant to mildew and resilient to dirt, grime and water, nylon is a firm favourite for jackets.

Your second consideration should be regarding fit. To maintain warmth during winter, you will want to consider layering clothes. This method works at keeping you warm by trapping pockets of warm air within and between the layers. It also allows you to control your temperature more easily by adding or removing layers. As such, it may be worth considering buying a slightly larger size for jumpers and jackets to allow room for layers.

The key to layering is using a base layer that wicks moisture away from the skin, and helps regulate body temperature. Then use a mid layer that provides insulation, such as a micro-fleece or soft shell jacket, before finishing off with a waterproof outer layer.

Riding jackets are specifically tailored for fitting around the saddle

Wise with waterproofs

A sturdy jacket and waterproof trousers will make all the difference in and out of the saddle. Waterproof trousers and chaps are available in most equestrian and camping shops, and will keep your jodhpurs clean and more importantly, keep you dry. Riding jackets and long coats are specifically designed to be comfortable when you are riding. Many feature tapered waistlines, saddle vents and longer back hemlines to aid movements and flexibility.

Investing in quality waterproof wear is a very good idea, however just like horse rugs, these items need to be cared for if you want them to last. Firstly, waterproof wear needs to be kept clean. Mud and dirt can reduce the effectiveness of the breathable membrane and give you the feeling that water is seeping in.

To wash waterproof clothing, the first step is to brush off dry mud and do up any zip or Velcro closings. You should never wash waterproof items with ordinary detergent or fabric softener as the chemicals can break down the waterproof coating, instead use a cleaner specifically designed for outerwear. For best results follow the product guidelines, but most are washed at 30 degrees and some can be tumble dried on a low or medium heat, or left to air dry.

You won’t need to reproof your clothing after every wash, but it is recommended once you notice the fabric starting to absorb rather than repel water. Proofers are either ‘wash in’ or ‘spray on’, the spray version usually being the more popular option as it allows you to target specific areas. Again, following manufacturers guidelines will ensure you get the best results.

Toasty toes

While winter boots are very warm, they can be dangerous in the stirrup

While furry lined winter boots might keep your feet warm for yard work, bear in mind their width. Most are wider than usual paddock or riding boots, so if you intend to use them for riding, make sure to check they are safe first. There should be half an inch of space between your boot and the branch (side) of the stirrup iron, making sure your foot easily falls out in an emergency.

Don’t forget

On particularly cold days, you’ll relish having a hat, scarf and pair of gloves to hand in your wardrobe. Hats are vitally important as we lose much of our body heat through our head. To get the most from a hat, buy one that covers your ears and opt for a fleece material rather than wool. Also consider the design of your riding hat – many are made with ventilation strips that are perfect for summer riding, but cause brain freeze in the winter. To get around this, you can try using a bandana, snood or even a balaclava! As for your neck, wearing a scarf or neck warmer will make a big difference. This area of your body is full of blood vessels that are close to your skin, meaning you will lose heat quickly if it stays uncovered.

You need your hands for all kinds of jobs, from buckling rugs and doing up tack, to scooping feed and sweeping. Typically, our hands are the first part of the body to feel a chill so protecting them with gloves is very important. Cold hands and toes are the first sign that your entire body is cold, regardless of whether or not you are wearing gloves and warm socks. When your body becomes cold, it prioritises heat to the vital organs in your torso, leaving your extremities to essentially ‘fend for themselves’, which in serious cases can lead to frostbite – so remember your gloves!

Your horse will thank you for choosing the right rug

Rugging up

With your wardrobe perfected, its time to check our horse has everything he needs. Rugs come in three different weights (light, medium or heavy) giving different levels of warmth, with those at the heavier end of the scale more suitable for winter weather.

Your horse’s breed, age and whether or not they are clipped should dictate the weight of rug you use. A native pony with a full winter coat and natural shelter will usually not need a rug, while a fully clipped thoroughbred that struggles to maintain condition will certainly need a rug.

The weight of a rug refers to the weight of the filling (often polyester, otherwise known as polyfill), which is measured in grams per square metre. These values vary from 0g (no-fill) up to 450g and more – usually unnecessary for British winters. Some manufacturers offer detachable layering systems, which are an added layer that attaches underneath the turnout, giving you a variety of weights for one turnout.

Native ponies or those with a full winter coat, will not require rugging

Although the weight of the rug is a very important factor, the strength of the outer material is equally significant as it determines how long it will last – especially for those of you with ‘rug wreckers’.

The outer shell of a rug is measured in denier, meaning to the number of yarns used to make one thread. In theory, the higher the denier rating, the stronger the fabric, but some horses still find a way to damage their rugs. For such horses, look out for products described as Ripstop. While these rugs don’t stop rips from occurring (as this would be unsafe if a horse was to become caught), they do help prevent a rip from spreading once it starts.

When it comes to necks, many manufacturers now offer a detachable option, so you can really tailor the rug to suit the weather. A standard neck stops at the withers, while a full neck finishes behind the ears, and a half neck finishes somewhere between, dependent on the design. The main advantage of using a full neck is that it keeps more of the horse clean, however it can be common for these to rub manes so you need to make sure they fit properly and stand proud of the mane. Necks that are attached to the rug itself mean there won’t be a gap for rain to pass through, but as they can’t be removed, it is harder to control a horse’s temperature.

Investing in quality products for yourself and your horse may seem daunting to begin with, but in time, the added reliability will be worth its weight in gold. For both of you, staying warm and dry is the key to staying content, but it never hurts to carry a spare pair of gloves or socks.